Hilmar’s Hubris: Self-Congratulation and Contradiction in the ‘Age of Chaos’

Guilford Australis 2019-08-19

Art by Redline XIII

EVE developer CCP is embroiled in a comedy of internal contradiction in the second month of its scorched-earth campaign to break all the toys in New Eden. It all began with an ‘invasion’ of Drifter NPCs in late June, compelling EVE’s largest coalition of players, the Imperium, to withdraw from war in the northern region of Tribute to defend their territory from this unexpected threat. Shortly after the Imperium’s arrival home in Delve and the surrounding regions, the Drifters ceased their hostilities. The contrast between CCP’s NPC pseudo-invasion and the actual player-created invasion that it brought to a grinding halt created controversy for the developers. But CCP – through interviews and public comments by CEO Hilmar Veigar Pétursson and Community Manager CCP Falcon – made clear it did not care whether players were pleased with the developers’ decision to climb in the sandbox of EVE and play against them.

Using the Drifter event as a convenient lore springboard, CCP announced a week later that the local chat feature in nullsec space would be altered from instantly showing all players within a system to a “delayed” model – a misnomer since players do not show up in local chat ever unless they decide to type a comment. The announcement produced an extreme divergence of opinion among players. Reddit erupted with ludicrously hyperbolic proclamations that the new chat ‘blackout’ would cause legions of disaffected bittervets to resubscribe after their seven-year breaks from EVE. Following the implementation of the new system, these same Redditors declared that ‘blackout’ was The Most Fun Ever That They’d Ever Had In EVE (Ever). Meanwhile, the first weekend of the ‘blackout’ revealed considerably less enthusiasm from the broader community, with Sunday logins failing to top 30k for the first time in thirteen years.

Talking With Hilmar

Undeterred by player angst, Hilmar and Falcon appeared for an illuminating interview on Talking in Stations later in the month to explain their recent decisions.

“We’re actually experiencing right now this month of July, we have the highest [Monthly Active Users] and [Daily Active Users] in the past five years,” Hilmar said. (Narrator voice: This claim is highly dubious for many reasons). Hilmar continued, “ [There will be] Much more rapid fire action from CCP than you’re used to.  Ideally something should be changing every week, [some] changes will be wildly unpopular… some will be wildly popular behind the scenes.”

In other words, changes may be “wildly unpopular” with players but “wildly popular” among the developers – a curious design philosophy for a subscription-based service whose subscriptions, we presume, are not paid by the developers.

For his part, Falcon said,  “If it was up to me, [EVE] would be a horrible, harsh, dark, dystopian nasty place where bad things happen… if it was up to me, EVE would be an absolute hellscape of terror and horribleness.”

A month after the ‘blackout,’ CCP announced major changes to the way capital and supercapital ships travel. Whereas previously any ship – even the lowly rookie corvette – could fit a Cynosural Field Generator and use it to call in caps and supers, CCP will remove that capability from all ship types other than Force Recon cruisers and Black Ops Battleships. As with the ‘blackout,’ this change is loudly supported by Redditors and some on the EVE Online forums who emphasize the negative effects they hope this will have on PVE-focused characters. However, as with each of the recent changes, this one may bring unintended consequences to combat and engagement among nullsec players.

Rounding out what we’ve seen so far of CCP’s ‘chaos’ agenda is a set of significant new tax hikes ostensibly intended to fund obscure NPC lore but, from a design standpoint, actually intended to stabilize EVE’s economy by removing excess ISK from circulation. The Transaction Tax and Brokerage Fee for each transaction rose to 5% – a net 100% increase from the previous taxes (prior to any effect from trade skills). While these increases can be avoided by trading in Citadels rather than NPC stations, they will likely have the hardest impact on newer players who reflexively use the Jita and Amarr station markets to sell the fruits of their labors. Combined with recent heavy nerfs to ships traditionally used to farm NPC bounties, these increases will undoubtedly have the intended effect of depressing the economy and limiting inflation. Of all the changes in the ‘Age of Chaos,’ this may be the only one to show evidence of long-term strategy.

The Gentleman Doth Protest Too Much

An awkward development for Hilmar’s and Falcon’s messaging emerged in a Talking in Stations interview on August 16 in which Senior Game Designer CCP Rise directly contradicts numerous claims from his colleagues’ interview on July 26.

“Before long, especially with this change, we’re going to be looking at where to tune rewards back up to make sure that it’s worth it for people to be out gathering resources and shooting rats because we’re going to be in a deficit, pretty soon, probably,”  Rise said, indicating the developers are, in fact, on the verge of losing money over the recent changes. However, Rise said, “… That’s great, actually, it’s… I mean, if we let it sit it’d be bad, but it’s a good place for us to be. A lot of the time we’re really hamstrung [on the Development team] by not being able to give out rewards because we have [ISK] faucet issues… but if we’re in a deficit we have free rewards to give away.”

And we have indeed seen rewards, from CCP’s Bonus Skill Week in mid-July to the hilariously awful Skilling Spree Part I and Part II.

Panelist Carneros, leader of The Bastion, asked whether his alliance’s players were justified in feeling like their preference for capital ships was being nerfed in favor of a push toward subcapital dominance.

Crushing the hopes of literally dozens of shrill rabblerousers on Reddit, Rise replied, “No, we’re not trying to say we’d rather people did small gangs… We would love to have more capital fights.”

In response to a question from Brisc Rubal, member of CSM 13 and pilot for The Initiative about whether ‘blackout’ is permanent, Rise commented, “I don’t think it’s the whole solution [to the economic problems].  We lost half of capital/supercapital [ratting] yield before blackout [due to capital nerfs in the spring]. It’s not like we need blackout to keep the [ISK] faucet issue out of the picture.”

And to a final question from Brisc about whether small or large nullsec alliances experienced a greater impact from the recent changes, Rise said, “The big organized groups are going to handle change better than small groups… Midsize groups that are trying to do logistics on a shoestring… it’s definitely going to be much harder for them to adjust than the big groups.”

Is It Really ‘Chaos?’

It is difficult not to imagine Hilmar and Falcon tipped their hand too far in the July 26 Talking in Stations interview. While posturing as bold visionaries and agents of ‘chaos,’ the duo actually reinforced the perception that CCP’s development process revolves around reactionary tweaks and nerfs rather than long-term strategic goals. Furthermore, it is unclear whether Hilmar, Falcon, or anyone at CCP has considered that there are various forms of ‘chaos,’ not all of which are desirable. Let’s consider three examples:

  • Controlled Chaos: Militaries can create chaos during wartime by deceiving their enemies. For example, Allied forces during WWII moved fake tanks and airplanes all over France, Norway, and other countries, ‘leaking’ false intelligence in the process to deceive Axis forces into redirecting to areas where the Allies did not plan to be. This seems to be closest to the sense Hilmar and Falcon intend when they use the term ‘chaos.’
  • Uncontrolled Chaos: A ship’s rudder or engines can break during a hurricane – or the entire ship can break in half – creating ‘chaos’ that leads to highly undesirable outcomes. In this case, external influences determine the outcomes more than any planning or preparation. This type of chaos might very well be closer to what CCP is achieving than the previous example, particularly if unintended consequences eclipse the original intentions.
  • Fake or Apparent Chaos: This can emerge in a variety of ways due to misinformation or erroneous beliefs. In Shakespeare’s final play, The Tempest, the conjurer Prospero uses tricks of perception to cause several characters to imagine things that are not actually happening. This is empty showmanship and – like much of Shakespeare – depends on a lazy deus ex machina to settle the plot. This is comparable to the abortive Drifter invasion, during which players realized CCP had not even developed fully functional AI for the invaders. In retrospect, for all the fake ‘chaos’ created by Drifters shooting Keepstars, there was never any real threat to the nullsec empires. Realizing this in hindsight erodes future confidence that anything CCP rolls out should be taken seriously.

‘Chaos’ is not inherently good or bad, nor is tossing the term around a convincing smoke-screen for a design team that has run out of ideas. Looking at the changes of the past six weeks, and listening to the explanations from Hilmar and Falcon, we are left to surmise that the question guiding CCP’s development process is, “What is the easiest nerf we can patch in that might connect in some way to the problem in front of us?” CCP’s concept of ‘chaos’ seems to assume a closed system in which a static player base is infinitely malleable and will adapt to all changes with more or less equal persistence. There is no evidence to suggest this is a good assumption. When players interpret CCP’s ‘chaos’ as incompetence, dumbassery, or hostility, they refuse to adapt and will move on to something other than EVE – as CCP Rise acknowledged in as many words.

To summarize, that word Hilmar and Falcon keep using… I do not think it means what they think it means.

‘Chaos’ Is Peculiarly Isolated

We might be forgiven for imagining that game-transforming chaos would extend to the farthest corners of EVE. We might even pretend for a moment that the stagnation CCP aims to correct in nullsec can be observed just as clearly in other regions of New Eden. Even as the developers bemoan easy NPC bounties and Rorqual mining in nullsec, similar activities continue unabated in highsec: Incursion communities, endless L4 mission running, Orca-boosted moon mining fleets vacuuming up rare ores like so many space Roombas, profitable DED 4/10 escalations, reasonably lucrative exploration sites, and zero-risk event sites. Strangely, though, the Reddit warriors who are always yammering about ‘krabs’ and lamenting that EVE is not dangerous enough never seem to care that according to data released three years ago by CCP Quant 75% of EVE’s population lives in highsec and spends all day printing ISK in perfect safety. It doesn’t matter that highsec is not as lucrative as nullsec. If the health of the game is on the line and risk-free ISK is the chief cause of stagnation, CCP loses credibility every day that highsec remains untouched by the ‘Age of Chaos.’

By focusing virtually all of its relentless chaos crusade on nullsec, CCP seems to tacitly acknowledge something nullsec dwellers have claimed for years with (mostly) trollish insincerity: EVE is nullsec. Most changes in the ‘Age of Chaos’ have targeted nullsec either exclusively (Drifter invasion, ‘blackout’) or primarily (Cynos). Only the tax increase affects players indiscriminately, and it is also the only avoidable change. Despite laughable lip-service to “[making] the game easier for new players” while making it harder for veterans, as Hilmar said on Talking in Stations, the evidence points to new players having the same terrible experience they have always had. The New Player Experience still reeks on ice even with the cosmetic Agency update, while new players who do their shopping and selling in Jita and Amarr are now paying heavy taxes that veterans with more ISK can absorb more easily. Curiously, only nullsec seems to be worthy of CCP’s special attention. CCP’s claim that the ‘Age of Chaos’ will revitalize EVE would be more convincing if it affected anyone outside of nullsec.

‘Chaos’ Is Not Enough

‘Chaos’ is not a plan or a direction for EVE, and it is not a concept that gives players a reason to continue investing in a game that now routinely nerfs, breaks, or eliminates systems, skills, and ships that they spent many hours and lots of money working toward. Whereas in past years the developers delivered regular expansions with new content and enticement for players to engage more fully, the ‘Age of Chaos’ serves up a lukewarm bowl of nerfs without any accompanying incentive for players to overcome the new challenges. CCP must explain its design goals, or develop those goals if, as we might suspect, they do not exist.

Hilmar, Falcon, CCP writ large, and the Reddit brigade habitually dismiss any criticism of CCP’s design decisions with a bunch of vigorous but unserious hand-waving.  If CCP is serious about reforming the game, a little introspection would not hurt. CCP should listen to Reddit less and the CSM more – especially during the ‘Age of Chaos.’ Otherwise, it might indeed turn out that they will have earned their own failure.

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Comments

  • Garreth Vlox

    “Before long, especially with this change, we’re going to be looking at where to tune rewards back up to make sure that it’s worth it for people to be out gathering resources and shooting rats because we’re going to be in a deficit, pretty soon, probably,”

    This reads like a cry to help from Rise to players that if they just keep unsubbing and holding out a for a bit longer CCP will have to fold or go into the red.

    August 19, 2019 at 8:01 am
    • Rhivre Garreth Vlox

      The faucets and bounties have been falling fairly fast since January. Rise here seems to be saying that the very small amount of ISK that entered the economy last month (20T ish) has dropped even lower, probably into negative with the transaction taxes (let alone if there was a change in bounty income), so now CCP are going to have to increase the faucets again…which is problematic if suddenly more people start doing PvE again as then there would be “too much isk in the system” to quote Hilmar and they would have to nerf it again.

      August 19, 2019 at 8:42 am
      • Carvj94 Rhivre

        Considering the incredible asset buildup since the start they can and should let the sinks keep isk flow in the red for a long while.

        August 22, 2019 at 11:13 pm
        • J Moravia Carvj94

          If they went deliberately looking for a better way to push away newer players, they could hardly find one more effective than this post.

          August 24, 2019 at 8:32 pm
          • Carvj94 J Moravia

            Well newer players shouldn’t go to null so more isk sinks in null shouldn’t effect them. Unless they were being unnaturally pulled into null by vets who wanted them to fight and die in droves for their amusement/benifit.

            August 24, 2019 at 10:08 pm
  • Alot

    While I eagerly await Eve mobile, I must preface with the disclaimer that I have no basis to post here anymore. I just found this development fascinating. The first note I found funny was that a dev wants to make EVE a nasty, unforgiving hellscape. EVE already is a nasty unforgiving hellscape. There is no permanent progression in EVE besides your skills, everything else you risk losing as a penalty of interacting with the game. When the model of “fun” is to provide people with the opportunity to achieve persistence in a hostile environment, I’m not sure how far you can push the concept of punishing people without further reward before they decide to go do yoga instead. The other thing which interests me is whether the drifter attack against goonswarm was actually random. I’m in favor of NPC “Natural Disasters” so long as they dispensed by an RNG generator and not salty devs (even if these events make playing less fun). If the devs are actively targeting the Imperium or other groups they view as problematic, thats an issue. While the details would not be released, I’d love to know if the CSM has enough jurisdiction to invoke an investigation into such an issue and relay the results.

    August 19, 2019 at 8:43 am
    • zeenkz Alot

      I suspect the Drifters were tuned to go after regions with highest density of activity and/or citadels. Delve is so off the charts that the algorithm went geometric on them.

      August 21, 2019 at 7:32 pm
  • Lord Ixlandis

    “Before long, especially with this change, we’re going to be looking at where to tune rewards back up to make sure that it’s worth it for people to be out gathering resources and shooting rats because we’re going to be in a deficit, pretty soon, probably,” Rise said, indicating the developers are, in fact, on the verge of losing money over the recent changes. However, Rise said, “… That’s great, actually, it’s… I mean, if we let it sit it’d be bad, but it’s a good place for us to be. A lot of the time we’re really hamstrung [on the Development team] by not being able to give out rewards because we have [ISK] faucet issues… but if we’re in a deficit we have free rewards to give away.”

    He’s referring to the ingame economy Faucets versus Sinks, not the company’s wallet.

    August 19, 2019 at 9:57 am
    • Guilford Australis Lord Ixlandis

      … As I clearly note with repeated use of the editorial clarification “[ISK].”

      My contention that CCP is on the verge of losing money stems from the loss of player engagement that created the conditions Rise describes.

      August 19, 2019 at 10:08 am
      • They should look at how much plex was purchased and especially how many accounts removed their auto-resub. Those are people who actually pay for the servers to run.

        August 21, 2019 at 7:34 pm
        • Guilford Australis zeenkz

          It’s true that the MERs only show one side of the financial picture. Player engagement does not always equate to real-life dollars spent on subscriptions because of the PLEX model.

          To my knowledge, CCP hasn’t released sub-related data in the past (and may have even less incentive to do so now that they have external share-holders), but it would be very interesting to see the relationship between trends in the in-game economy and players’ decisions about whether to renew subscriptions.

          I’ve dropped four subs (that I used to pay with real dollars) within the past two months, so there’s that. No individual change compelled it, just general disappointment with – and lack of confidence in – CCP’s priorities, as well as their manifest antagonism toward one particular region of EVE.

          August 21, 2019 at 9:35 pm
      • Thelawenforcer Guilford Australis

        Rise said, indicating the developers are, in fact, on the verge of losing money over the recent changes.

        It’s this specific sentence that he takes issue with. You aren’t making an argument about anything, you are willfully misinterpreting this comment and trying to put words in the developers mouth.

        The rest of the post is generally interesting, but it’s hard to take your analysis seriously if you are able to misinterpret something to that extent..

        August 25, 2019 at 8:54 am
        • Guilford Australis Thelawenforcer

          Neither the original commenter nor I need you to speak on his behalf. I understood his position and responded to it directly on the same day the article was published. I clarified exactly what I meant and fail to see why this is still a problem for you.

          August 25, 2019 at 11:01 am
          • Thelawenforcer Guilford Australis

            If you understood the comment rise made that you were able to contextualise them with [x] how are you able to say that his comment ‘indicates that CCP is losing money’ over the changes? While it’s possible that CCP are indeed losing money over the change, the comment is clearly talking about something totally different (which you realise) and in no way indicates what you claim it does, yet your misinterpretation is still there.. it’s lazy at best and manipulative at worst.

            August 25, 2019 at 11:16 am
          • Guilford Australis Thelawenforcer

            It’s an op-ed. Feel free to write your own and submit it to INN if you feel compelled to intervene on Rise’s behalf to save him from an insidious plot to interpret his comments in light of indirect but necessary causal factors.

            August 25, 2019 at 11:17 am
          • Thelawenforcer Guilford Australis

            The wider point you are making might well be correct, but it’s not possible to extract it from that comment alone. But if your happy being dishonest because it’s an op-ed fine, you are a goon after all and this is INN so some deceitful propaganda is to be expected I guess

            August 25, 2019 at 11:54 am
          • Guilford Australis Thelawenforcer

            If I had to do it over, I’d have used the word “suggesting” rather than “indicating,” But the INN editors generally don’t like to make changes after publication and that’s just the way it is.

            Yet here I am, in the comments, clarifying precisely what I meant by the statement you don’t like. It’s the best I can do.

            August 25, 2019 at 11:56 am
  • Scott Wilson

    “Yes, It’s about this chaos I ordered. I don’t think it’s working right. Yeah but, no I mean everything is all messed up and chaosy. What? What? It’s supposed to work that way? I can’t return this chaos for a different one?”

    August 19, 2019 at 1:08 pm
  • Guilford Australis

    Thanks for the note. It’s true that highsec incursions aren’t quite the ridiculous ISK cascade they used to be two or three years ago. I think incursions in general (even in nullsec) are still more profitable than the risk justifies.

    August 19, 2019 at 3:50 pm
  • CCP has not left high sec out of the equation. The Triglavian incursions are still active and still blapping the unwary. I have seen them setup between tutorial systems and the career agent systems, where the tutorial sends you, with enough rookie ship wrecks strewn about a gate to prove they mean business. There’s your NPE.

    To this they have added Triglavian scouts who roam belts in high sec systems, also blapping the unwary. Anybody AFK mining in high sec might come back to a wreck, and anybody who doesn’t understand that these are not simple belt rats… well, that is probably another wreck.

    August 19, 2019 at 5:34 pm
    • Guilford Australis Wilhelm Arcturus

      The Triglavian impact on highsec is virtually identical in form, scope, and effects to the previous Sansha Incursion model. Impacted systems are clearly marked on the travel route with a pop-up warning to ensure players are not taken off-guard. NPCs camp a few gates and murder a few miners. It couldn’t possibly be more obvious or avoidable – or more similar to the current systems.

      Edit: That’s not ‘chaos.’

      August 19, 2019 at 6:17 pm
      • It’s not perfect safety either, especially the scouts, the part you seemed to have avoided addressing.

        August 19, 2019 at 6:24 pm
        • Guilford Australis Wilhelm Arcturus

          Wilhelm: “It’s not perfect safety either, especially the scouts, the part you seemed to have avoided addressing.”

          Guilford: “NPCs camp a few gates and murder a few miners. It couldn’t possibly be more obvious or avoidable – or more similar to the current systems.”

          August 19, 2019 at 6:27 pm
          • They are not camping gates, they are going into asteroid belts to murder miners, that seems a bit different than your statement no matter how many font effects you apply.

            August 19, 2019 at 6:31 pm
          • Guilford Australis Wilhelm Arcturus

            Guilford: “NPCs … murder a few miners. It couldn’t possibly be more obvious or avoidable – or more similar to the current systems.”

            August 19, 2019 at 6:33 pm
          • Guilford Australis Wilhelm Arcturus

            The point is well made, though I disagree the ‘Age of Chaos’ has had a significant impact on highsec. The effects of the Drifter ‘incursion’ – compared to nullsec’s apparently permanent loss of local chat and the announced cyno changes – seem minimal to me, but it’s fair to point out there have been consequences for highsec.

            August 19, 2019 at 10:23 pm
  • Rhivre

    Do you disagree with Rise?

    August 19, 2019 at 6:21 pm
  • Romulus Loches

    Actually it will probably be the exact opposite problem. Hunters will be able to light a cyno and drop a dread bomb, but that cyno will get blapped. Goons will light a cyno and escalate. Even if the Goon cyno gets blapped, they can have another one readily at hand as backup. Hunters must either bring in a backup cyno if they want the option to further escalate which means one less pilot able to do anything else. In a game where people need n+1 to win, Goons have n+100 so trading one pilot out for an extra cyno is less of an issue relative to size.

    August 19, 2019 at 6:45 pm
  • Guilford Australis

    I don’t even understand this comment.

    By which I mean that it has the structural form of a sentence without any actual significance behind the words forming said sentence. What.,. the hell is this?

    August 19, 2019 at 7:09 pm
  • Eve Talaminada

    All the changes so far are great! it will rock the large alliances, and more importantly all the hoarding lemmings who cant do anything on their own but rely on strength of numbers.

    The only thing I do not like is that taxes only affects NPC stations. I am not a new player and I trade exclusively in NPC station for the following reasons: I have no reasons to use a PC station because there is no way to tell who really benefit from my trading there, and I have no intention to provide passive income to large blocks minions.

    So until the anonymous alt system is removed and I can see who benefits from my taxes, I will remain exclusively a NPC station trader.

    I’d like the tax increase to also apply to PC stations. I’d also like some active play siphon mechanics toward PC station, and not one that can be found out by external tools like moon goo siphons could be detected…

    August 19, 2019 at 10:51 pm
    • Erick Asmock Eve Talaminada

      This will do exactly zero to impact the large alliances. In fact, the numbers to date say these changes disproportionately affect everyone but the large alliances.

      August 22, 2019 at 8:35 pm
  • Nicz Shadowstar

    The artcile mentioned many important patch changes, that made the user base unhappy.

    August 19, 2019 at 11:03 pm
  • zeenkz

    Isn’t the economic report published by now?

    August 21, 2019 at 7:28 pm
  • In any chaos, naturally order try to emerge. Its also in human nature. Even war aim at putting up a greater order. Null sec has become organised because of that. Try to do a game that goes against human nature and it could end up badly.

    August 26, 2019 at 12:21 pm